tv Q A CSPAN May 24, 2015 11:00pm-12:01am EDT
a.m. it eastern on c-span. next, q and day with the direct your of the library in than the senate hearing on syria in iraq. after that, the joint chiefs of staff on global threat. ♪ announcer: this week on "q&a," our guest is michael witmore director of the folger shakespeare library. he talks about the library the life of william shakespeare, and modern-day politicians in the world. brian lamb: michael witmore, director of the folger shakespeare library. when did you first notice in your life politicians using shakespeare's quotes?
director witmore: it was hard to escape shakespeare, because politicians, whether they know it or not, are using and often saying shakespeare's words. it is something that allows politicians to connect with audiences, and when they quote shakespeare, it gives the politician a certain kind of weight and heft. brian lamb: you said that robert byrd was probably the greatest senator to use the words of william shakespeare in the senate. director witmore: yes, robert byrd was the cicero senator, and he used ornate clauses and that is one of the distinctive things about him that worked on the floor. brian lamb: we have a clip of him on the senate floor talking about him using shakespeare.
[video clip] senator byrd: oh that my tongue were in the thunder's mouth, then with a passion would i shake the world, one drop of blood, drawn from by country's -- thy country's bosom. aye, it is written having such a jewel, and these covering heavens fall like dew to inlay heaven with stars. as these, covering heavens call on the heads -- fall on the heads like dew. as we leave for the evening, give me my robe, put on my crown, i have immortal longings in me. brian lamb: what did you hear? director witmore: i heard a very theatrical senator.
he picks passages that are so poetic and full of images, and he also moves around, you also notice he has his hand moving here, he is almost ready to move around, he almost sounds like an english professor. brian lamb: what would you say to somebody like me who is not a shakespeare expert, how would you explain it to me? director witmore: you would listen to the poetic images and the sounds of the rhymes, and also the way in which he did it, you have to do pause or linger over a long phrase or stop and keep going. i think he is really using the rhythm of the language which is something that shakespeare used so brilliantly. so that tea can take english antique and put it into high gear at one moment and then he can slow down, and that is one thing that shakespeare it lets you do if you are a politician.
brian lamb: i have an article from "the new york times," and the article states "most politicians quote shakespeare badly, if at all, with a special emphasis on if at all." is that fair? director witmore: well, i think that politicians are using shakespeare partial words -- shakespeare's words, whether they know it or not. he invented a lot of words. for example, he invented the word bedroom. so they are going to use a lot of words on the senate floor. i think that shakespeare is kind of in the bloodstream of our culture, and we often get him wrong, but we are close enough that people can hear that connection.
brian lamb: we found this fun video on youtube. we don't who the man is, maybe you know the voice? but he does exactly what you talk about, putting quotes together the people don't know our -- our shakespeare -- are shakespeare. [video clip] >> if you cannot understand my argument, and declare, it is greek to me, you are quoting shakespeare. if you are saying, it it is more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting shakespeare. if you quote salad days, you are quoting shakespeare. if you wish -- if you say something vanished into thin air, you are quoting shakespeare. director witmore: that is funny, shakespeare is onstage, he is in films, and people are taking different parts and performing them for their laptops and shakespeare is a public property.
brian lamb: can you give me some? director witmore: oh sure, a man sinned against than sinning, that is one way of saying that i may be wrong but you are more wrong, and what you are doing to me is worse than what i have ever done to you. it is a great line. brian lamb: we have some photographs to show everyone how close the folger shakespeare
close the folger shakespeare library is to the united states capitol. and we will put on a couple of pictures on the screen so you can tell us, here is one for instance. you can see the capitol scaffolding all around it, but your front door is right on the left. director witmore: at that point, you are two blocks east of the u.s. capital, and you are diagonally positioned from the u.s. supreme court, and you are right next to the library of congress. brian lamb: how did this building, the full shakespeare library, get there in the first place, and when was it built? director witmore: it was built by henry clay folger, and he had
a fortune, and fortunately, he wanted to spend it on books. he was a fan of shakespeare. before he died, he said, i am going to build a library, and i am going to put it in washington, d.c. as a gift to the american people. that is really important because he understood that americans and politicians really had a connection to this writer. if you look just to the east the congress, the supreme court, the library of congress, the folger, those represent the language arts in our country. you've got the law, which is about language, and i would say, when you look at that capital, that is word central for the united states, and we are really pleased to be a part of that. brian lamb: how were you chosen to be the director? director witmore: i was interviewed, and i had to make an application and write a letter, and you need to be a shakespeare scholar. you need to connect with the hundreds of people who come from all over the world who read our collection who come to write.
you also need to be able to run an institution that has a theater program, we do three shakespeare plays a year in the first tudor theater in north america, we have a beautiful exhibition on a longitude, how did they figure out how east or west they were when they were navigating? and then we are bringing in thousands of students who are performing on our stage. they are getting into the act and they are performing. so i think it would be hard to be qualified to do all of this but i knew i was qualified to do a lot of it. brian lamb: you came from where? director witmore: i came from the university of wisconsin, madison. brian lamb: what did you do there? director witmore: i taught there three years and prior to that i taught at carnegie mellon for 10 years. brian lamb: prior to that, where did you get your education? director witmore: i went to vassar college and then after that i went and got my phd at university of california at berkeley. brian lamb: so, let's listen a little more to politicians. here is harry reid on the floor of the senate.
[video clip] senator reid: parting is such sweet sorrow, and that is what it is. it is from shakespeare. good night, good night, parting is such sweet sorrow, and it really is. witmore: he is quoting romeo and juliet. clearly it is an emotional moment. i think he has a big challenge there as a politician. he needs to make an emotional connection, and there are many things that you can say in that situation that are wrong, that wouldn't work. and so one of the reasons that many people turn to shakespeare is that he is tried and true. that quotation actually comes from a courtship scene about romantic love, but like many politicians, he can just take a phrase and adapt it to his own situation. he can say, goodbye, parting is such sweet sorrow. brian lamb: how often do politicians on capitol hill come
over to your library? director witmore: many times they can just walk right over, but i think it is very, very important that shakespeare never took sides. shakespeare is a man who looked at the complexities of our life, and we have members of congress, members of the judiciary, they come, they enjoy our exhibitions. we were fortunate to have a meeting of the female senators who got together and saw parts of our collection, they had dinner, they got to talk about the renaissance looking at some of these great materials including manuscripts from queen elizabeth and a beautiful painting of elizabeth. but there is a very successful female leader, someone who had challenges. so i felt very honored that these female senators chose to and that they could see those connections between the challenges of a truly great -- she was a monarch, she wasn't a politician -- but her predicament as a woman in politics -- it was difficult.
so it was very exciting to be able to share that with the leaders of our country. brian lamb: is there any way to know what william shakespeare's politics would have been in today's world? director witmore: oh my gosh, we speculate about that all the time. i will tell you what, i think -- i think shakespeare understood that family politics are the country's politics. those history plays that you see show the problems of dynasties the problems of armies and wars, they talk about relationships. i am not sure that is a left or right issue, but it is definitely something that he was aware of. i would also say that there were also moments in his place where he seemed very skeptical of crowds. there was a scene of a peasant rebellion in the henry the sixth -- henry vi play.
where the masses rise up and make demands of the general. ignorant, unethical, it dangerous, i think he knew it is dangerous to having the rule of all and i think he would have been friendly to our kind of constitutional democracy, but i don't know. he wrote plays that flattered kings and queens, so he believed in the monarchy on some level. the question for shakespeare and maybe this is a way to think about this issue, for shakespeare, the culture war was really between the protestants and catholics. that was the left and right of his world. on the protestant left were people who wanted to remake the world into a new jerusalem. and on the right, there was the
catholic rituals that had been part of england for so long. so this was the tension. catholicism was illegal during shakespeare's time, he may have, he may have come from a catholic family. so what we see was going on in shakespeare's mind was the battle that he was aware of between protestants and catholics. brian lamb: from the senate floor during a filibuster, here is senator ted cruz. [video clip] senator cruz: for he today who shed his blood for me will be my brother, be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition. and gentlemen in england now in bed shall think themselves accursed that they were not here
and hold their manhoods cheap upon st. crispin's day. those words express centuries ago are precisely applicable to tonight because it is a stand against an administration that refuses to acknowledge limits on its power. director witmore: that is really fascinating, he is quoting from henry v, it is a speech that henry gives right before leading into a major battle. often, people going into leadership talk about that speech. the power that a king has to motivate people who were going into a battle against all odds. it is so tough to quote a play because the senator is objecting to the monarchical tendencies of the way that the president is acting on his own authority. but the person who delivered those lines in the play is a monarch. so we can use shakespeare
may be even against the purposes that they were originally intended, but i think that is a tricky one because he is trying to say one thing with shakespeare and i think shakespeare was on a different side at that moment. brian lamb: going back to that op-ed piece in "the new york times," the author said "no american politician today wants to seem too educated. quoting shakespeare is risky as a rhetorical strategy." director witmore: that may be right. so in the 19th century, people , who were educated and who had learned to write were exposed to the study of rhetoric, it is public speaking, the one that senator byrd it knew so well. before you go to university, those happened by learning to quote shakespeare. you would deliver speeches, you would refine all of that, and that tradition is really gone now.
our speakers really need to be much more flexible, they need to be able to broadcast to people that i may know more than you, but i am also like you. so i think our political discourse has been turned in some different directions. we still quote shakespeare in some moments that are important, but i think politicians have to have some more down to earth way that does not sound like it is coming from on high. that is where you get into the press release and the talking points. political speech right now tends to be much more about focus, goals, precision. that is where it is tough for shakespeare to work his way back in. brian lamb: here is a completely different look -- take on shakespeare from sarah palin. [video clip]
sarah palin: thank you friends i am so glad to be here, truly. it reminds me of that speech from henry v. you know the one, where young king henry barks up the -- bucks up the troops before he leads them into battle, because that is what i do, i quote -- bucks up the troops before he leaves -- leads them into battle, because that is what i do, i quote shakespeare. [laughter] we are a happy band of brothers that fight for the constitution and the future of freedom. [applause] brian lamb: that is from an nra event. director witmore: i think that is very sophisticated. i think she is able to use shakespeare and take some great part of that speech and she delivers them. and then she is able to mix it with something that sounds just the opposite, buck up or stay in the truck.
so she is doing some ink that great politicians know how to do, which is to go from the high end of our culture and get closer to the ground. some of the more powerful moments in shakespeare's plays have the heroes at using these grounded words the anglo-saxon , words of our language. and, buck up or state in the truck -- stay in the truck is exactly that kind of language. that is when french and latin came to britain, and those are the words connected to bureaucracy. i think abraham lincoln, when he
read shakespeare so carefully, what he got from shakespeare, he wasn't always quoting shakespeare he realized it was important to do something very ornate and then stop and do something very direct. i think sarah palin hit both of those sides. brian lamb: dick durbin is on the floor of the senate here talking about hamlet. [video clip] senator durbin: i spoke to our chaplain before the session about a line in shakespeare that i have always struggled to understand. it is from hamlet and a line from his famous soliloquy where he says, conscience makes cowards of us all. what does that mean? director witmore: that's a good
one, he is asking if you think about something and wondering whether it is right for you and then you pause. so your conscience is sitting on your shoulders saying, don't do it, don't do it. so instead of being a hero, you feel like a coward. brian lamb: shakespeare lived when? director witmore: from 1664 1716. he started his life in stratford-upon-avon. brian lamb: how much was he split from his wife when he lived in london and she lived in stratford? director witmore: that is a really good question, he spent time away from her, and we often think about his relationship to her. in his will, he left her his second-best bed, which sounds insulting, that there may be reasons that was a more intimate gift to give to her. one of the reasons that one of our scholars at the folger shakespeare library was thinking about is that she had bankrolled him when he was in london.
that is a georgetown professor. i would love to know more about that, and i think if we do learn more about shakespeare, it will be because we find more documents connected to his life. brian lamb: how much do you trust about what you know about shakespeare, the time that he lived, he was only 52 when he died, and what did he die of? director witmore: that is a great question, we don't know exactly what he died of. the folger shakespeare library will be hosting an exhibition
called "shakespeare: life of an icon," where we will bring together almost every document that is directly connected to william shakespeare, the man from stratford who lived in london. this will be collections from our collection, from the british library, all from one place, probably in the first time since shakespeare died that they will be in one place. most of those will be documents about his birth, about his death, there will be legal documents, we know that he brought lawsuits. and so part of what we have to do is put things together from legal documents that have a certain amount of trustworthiness because they are bureaucratic documents. the other part that we rely on is that shakespeare was a famous man and people wrote about him during his lifetime. so you get people complaining about him, who is this upstart crow, this swan of avon? he is from warwickshire, he is not from london. he did not go to university. so, these complaints help us understand how people ought
about him. -- thought about him. that may have also helped connect the body of work that is his place to what we know from the court records and other kinds of records. brian lamb: here is michele bachmann talking about shakespeare. director witmore: it just doesn't quit. [video clip] michele bachmann: it was press secretary jay carney who admitted that the sequestration was president obama's idea. there are numerous republicans who voted against sequestration because we knew all of these calamities were in the future. and so it reminds me of the shakespeare line, thou protest this too much. didn't you know this was going to happen? we knew it. that is why we voted against this bill. brian lamb: she wasn't reading that, so it was obviously off the top of her head. director witmore: she doth protest too much, hamlet, i mean, macbeth. it is very common for people to reach out from memory to quote shakespeare.
another common one is alas, poor yorick, i knew him well. but actually, it said in the play, it says, i knew him, horatio. when someone misquotes shakespeare, other people hear it and they keep doing it. so we like to have the sources at the folger. we have the first editions, so you can come and check. he was like an encyclopedia of our language, and michele bachmann can pluck out a small piece, it is not exactly right but it helps her make her point. and i think her point there, it is kind of tricky, people who are against, who are actually for this are pretending that they are not and by protesting too much, they are showing that
actually there is a lie there. brian lamb: i saw in your financial report on your website that you get $773,000 from the federal government in 2013 and that your total expenditures were over $20 million. what is that going to be used for? director witmore: the money that we get from the government is partly to fund research libraries, so we get money from the imlf and then we get money from the national endowment of humanities. we did a really terrific show called the king james bible, and we showed the history of how we came to the king james bible and what it has meant to america. that show came to washington and then it went around the country.
another exciting thing that the and neh has opened an interpretation of the to be or not to be quote and it will be in libraries and museums, but millions of people will see that look and will get a sense of not only just the source of it, but the fact that we still have these books, but be able to recognize that this book still speaks to us. so the federal grants that we get are advancing, often, those kinds of research projects that we do, but also, the way that we interpret shakespeare for others. brian lamb: do you have any problem with the church-state problem?
director witmore: believe it or not, we don't, we are neither church nor state. there was one book that was very popular called a sinner's libel, where a misprint led to the 10 commandments reading thou shalt commit adultery, so there were a lot of people who wanted to pose with that book. we won't name names. it is interesting to me to see -- i mean, it is tough with shakespeare. there are ways that you could talk about him that are very political and that are very academic. but shakespeare is part of a world that is big and it is the same world that produced the king james bible. if you look at shakespeare and the king james bible, those are probably the two most influential texts for americans. they are the books that people read if they could read in the 19th century. brian lamb: let's look at more quotes from our friend from the youtube video, i wish we knew who he was, there was no identification. this shows you how many words and phrases come from shakespeare. [video clip]
>> if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, or a tower of strength, if you have knitted your brows, or have been in a pickle, have not slept a wink, had stood on ceremony, or had too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise, it is a good bet that you are as good luck would have it, quoting shakespeare. brian lamb: could you do a lot more of this? director witmore: we could go on and on. [laughter] brian lamb: fast and loose?
director witmore: fast and loose is good for politics. if you want to say that your opponent is misreading the law. if you want to make a case for taking an action that is uncomfortable what must happen then it is making a virtue of necessity. there are a lot of phrases in there that can get you out of tight corners. [laughter] brian lamb: how much of the language of shakespeare was actually the way they spoke back in the 1500s? director witmore: that is a great question, brian. english in england was pretty fluid when shakespeare was around, so there are different dialects. the north does not sound like the south, the west does not sound like the east -- what happens when print is introduced and becomes a dominant media form, is that english stars to stabilize into the form that it is spoken in london. so shakespeare reflects the english in london at the end of the 16th century, and that is interesting, because that is the english that ends up becoming the official dialect of english as time goes on.
brian lamb: folger shakespeare library is available to the average person in what way? director witmore: so we are open and we are free. free and open to the public. we have an exhibition hall where you can come and see great exhibitions for free. right now, we have the history of longitude and some of the most important timepieces ever created. we do three shakespeare plays a year in our tudor theater. and here is one that people don't expect, thousands of children come into the folger and they go on our stage and it is a thrill for a high school student to be able to perform on that stage. it is something they will remember all of their lives.
i would invite your viewers to come and explore. we are free and open to the public. brian lamb: do you have an endowment? director witmore: we have a core endowment to maintain the items in our vault. brian lamb: how much is the endowment? director witmore: it is over $300 million. brian lamb: where did it come from? director witmore: that came from mr. folger before he died, it is in the trust of the amherst college and it manages our endowment, so we have been very fortunate to have growth over almost 80 years. for a place that needs to take care of some of the most important documents in the world, i think it guarantees that we will always be able to do that, but more importantly, it gives us an anchor or so. when i asked for support for the folger, i say, we will always be here. so we have that ability to stay the course, we have been around for a long time, and our mission points us at william shakespeare, the renaissance and a hugely important body of work and thought and ideas for this country and for all of the students in america.
brian lamb: amherst college is in massachusetts, a long way from washington. why did they want to get involved in this? director witmore: when mr. folger died, there was a story i believe it was in "the new york times," and amherst college learned that they had the greatest collection of shakespeare documents. the will it is written in such a way that to you the university trustees refused to take the collection, it would go to
another university, and if that university chose not to do it, it would go to another university. mr. folger was an amherst alum they saw the value of the collection, and they took it over. brian lamb: let's go back to politics for a moment. here is senator ted kennedy, the late senator ted kennedy, and the former senator alan simpson from wyoming. [video clip] senator kennedy: eventually, under the senate rules, we will have an opportunity to make these -- to have these offerings, and we will have these amendments on the minimum wage. senator simpson: mr. president i think we could go on, and we may, but i think as we get back to the substance of minimum wage, and apparently, the senator does that, and i think i misspoke earlier about
shakespeare, i think that senator kennedy is king lear and i am puck, because certainly he launched one end of the tempests there and here i am. brian lamb: what does that mean? director witmore: i am not sure i know what that means. that was senator simpson, right? senator simpson was a reader at the folger, and i am told he spent time at the library when they did votes at the senate. he is a huge fan of shakespeare. brian lamb: does it make any sense to you the he would call senator kennedy king lear? director witmore: i need to know more about the context, but i think he said something about king lear launching something into the tempest, and i don't think he is quoting "the tempest," the play, i think he is talking about king there
-- king lear suffering at the hands of the elements and then hurling insults down to the gods. and he is insinuating himself as puck, this playful spirit from "a midsummer's night dream," so i think it is always better to be puck then king lear. brian lamb: here is senator trent franks in support of the balanced budget amendment. [video clip] senator franks: in this moment in history, america make it a second chance, and we may not often get it again -- we may not get it again. i don't often quote shakespeare, but he wrote in a play this quote i think that applies to us today. he says, there is a tide in the affairs of men, which leads to fortune, but omitted, all of the voyage of their lives is bound in shallows and misery. upon such a full sea, we find ourselves afloat, and we must take the current when it serves or lose our venture.
in this time of christ, we are also standing in a place where the tide is high and the opportunity israel. brian lamb: there, by the way is no teleprompter on the floor. director witmore: that is from "julius caesar," it is talking about taking opportunity and grabbing it, and he launches several lines that he has got in memory. that is an old trick to say that i am not about to do this thing and then go ahead and do it. one way to get into shakespeare is by saying, i don't really quote shakespeare, but -- and i think we heard sarah palin do the same thing. brian lamb: so if you are home watching this and you are saying, shakespeare, what was that from? what is your recommendation, how can people research where language like this come from? director witmore: a great way to do this is to go search the plays, the plays that shakespeare wrote are now fully digitized. at the folger, we put the text of those plays online for free. at folgerdigitaltexts.org.
brian lamb: can you search? direct her wit more: you can search at all. --director whitmore: you can search it all. brian lamb: people who watch us can get online and get the closed caption transcripts so if they missed what they are saying and want to connect it to -- director witmore: that is right. brian lamb: but you started the whole business of digitizing this when? director witmore: i was at carnegie melon for 10 years, and i was trained as a traditional humanist scholar, and i still read a lot of books and you try to absorb as much is due can and you sit down and write. but now that we have fully searchable online books from the
1470s-1600, we have the opportunity to take these 60,000 books that represent this very important period in print that is taking off. you got shakespeare, you've got politics, you've got a civil war in england, and i realize that you could use some techniques from statistics, from a bio informatics, of looking for sequences of words and asking yourselves, are there some kinds of texts where more of these happen? and it turns out you could create a profile of a shakespeare play and there are some things that he has to do when he's writing a history played he could never do when writing a comedy. brian lamb: how many plays did he write? director witmore: we believe he wrote 38 plays, but this is the professional theater and playwrights collaborated.
so up to 30% of those plays include the words of other people, and in fact, the words have been identified to identify what passages were created by other writers. brian lamb: do you have any sense of what play has been quoted by all of shakespeare's? director witmore: that is a great question, i would bet it is either "julius caesar" or "hamlet." brian lamb: why? director witmore: "julius caesar" is all about beautiful speeches, those tend to be very popular. americans read them and loved them. so i think "hamlet" took off in the 19th century, it has a lonely hero wants to avenge his father but is a little reluctant to do it, it is a great story about a fully formed person with real problems.
brian lamb: in 2011, queen elizabeth came to the white house and here is president obama using shakespeare. [video clip] president obama: to her majesty, the queen, the vitality of the special relationship between our peoples and the words of shakespeare to this blessed plot, this earth, this realm to the queen. director witmore: brian, that has to be a high-pressure moment, even for someone as polished as the president, meeting the monarch, talking about her country, quoting "john of gaunt" from "richard ii," so i think he chose it wisely in his toast.
brian lamb: how did shakespeare name his plays? director witmore: that is a great question. the names of the plays differ somewhat depending on what published edition you look at. so the paperback edition of "king lear" is "the history of king lear" and in the folio editions, it is "the tragedy of king lear," so i think that i myself am curious about how the plays were named. one thought that i have is that they were often named with proverbs. all's well that ends well, as you like it, which is an adage. some of the work that i have been doing is try to understand why playwrights chose proverbs as titles for their planes. -- titles for their plays.
brian lamb: how many of the 38 plays have you read? director witmore: i have probably read the whole cycle 4-5 times, all 38. i tend to read them in the order in which we think they were written so that i -- so i am trying to piece together the career of this person. when i was teaching large lecture classes on shakespeare i would read "a fellow," -- "othello," "hamlet," "king lear." brian lamb: what was the last play written? director witmore: that is debated, it could have been one of the henry vi plays. it could've been collaborative. it wasn't "the tempest," is may have been "two noble king's men -- kingsmen." brian lamb: what would you say written back than predicted what we see in our world today? director witmore: i will give you an example. i think when president george w. bush was president after 9/11,
the media started to talk about the transformation of this leader from someone who as a younger person was less serious, and then after this huge national tragedy, became a serious -- there was a change in how he saw his role. and that harkens back to king henry iv when prince hal is spending a lot of time drinking with tinkerers and his best friend is this riotous night and it changes when he decides to reform himself and when he meets his old drinking buddy at the end of this play, he says i know thee not. which is a complete repudiation of that friendship and that
experience. i cannot guess what was going through president george w. bush's mind during 9/11. shakespeare's stories are good because they are dramatic and i have vivid characters, they are often about politics because they have dynasties, and they are available for us to slot are politicians -- to slot our politicians into. that is why alan simpson was fond of saying, i see my mid i see my mcbeths and king lears in washington. brian lamb: david dreier on the floor of the house. [video clip] david dreier: i would like to quote shakespeare, in such business, action is eloquence. we have a measure before us designed to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to focus on getting our economy going and generating job opportunities for the american people.
director witmore: it is so interesting how a beautiful, short rotation from shakespeare, action is eloquence, can be slotted right into a policy discussion. beautiful phrase, i can't remember what play it comes from. the best way to make an impression is not to talk a lot. it is to take action. that is what he is saying. brian lamb: folger shakespeare library contains what? director witmore: folger shakespeare library contains the greatest collection of original materials connected to shakespeare and his world. and that means that we cover not only shakespeare, playwriting, lyric poetry, but the collection also represents the entire european renaissance, and the
particular focus is on the world of london between the fifth teen 80's and 16 30's, which is when we are getting science from france's taken, the allergy poetry shakespeare and it is such a life of moment that the city is undergoing so many changes. people are coming from all over the country to come to one spot. trade is alive, the entire atlantic is being explored. good and bad things are happening, very frightening things are happening. politically, they do not know who the air to elizabeth will be -- heir will be, there is the beginning of colonization, a thing that still troubles us. but it is an amazing period in history, and i would say this collection represents a world
that could be the first moment in english and western history where we could look at that and say, that is our world too. brian lamb: how many books at your library? director witmore: there are millions of books, but probably over -- i want to get this right -- almost 300,000 books, rare books, printed in the first centuries of print -- first century of print. we have over 400-year-old manuscripts. brian lamb: in his writing? director witmore: no, but we have to understand what is in these old books, so we have a fully browsable secondary connection -- collection that is a full city block long. brian lamb: what is the first folio? director witmore: the first folio is a book of the first collected edition of
shakespeare's work. there are no sonnets in it. there are a couple of things that are important about the book. the first is that without that book, we would not have 18 of shakespeare's plays, including "macbeth" and "the winter's tale." it is the only record we have for some of the most famous lays. -- most famous plays. the second thing that is important about it is that it is a large book, it is about like this. large-format books are reserved for the ologies, philosophy, history, and to say that plays and plays only belong in a book like this is important. for theology, philosophy history, and the first folio is the first book in england with that large luxurious format filled only with stage plays. brian lamb: how many of those do you have? director witmore: we have 82 copies of this book. there are 233 known copies in the world. brian lamb: if you sold one of those copies, what would it be worth today? director witmore: we would never sell them, so they are all different, they all have research value, every single one
of them. the last -- i believe -- the last auction sale for a complete first folio was over $6 million. brian lamb: here is robert kennedy in 1964 eulogizing at the democratic national convention. his brother, jack kennedy, was obviously killed in 1963. [video clip] robert kennedy: when i think of president kennedy, i think of shakespeare and "romeo and juliet," he shall make -- and all the world shall be in night. and pay no worship to the gerrish son. -- garish sun.
director witmore: that is a very powerful passage to describe the loss of a -- the sudden loss of a president. it takes that to death, which is a political event and in historical event and makes it a cosmic event. we get a lot of calls from people who know a lot about shakespeare and at election time, we get requests for things like a quote from "12 night," -- " 12th night," and we give quotes from them. brian lamb: stephen greenblatt was on and we had a composite of writers on our book notes program that talked about shakespeare. let's watch. [video clip]
>> what i try to do with humor and serious columns is let the reader see politics almost like a shakespearean drama where you have running characters. >> there is no better way than reading shakespeare than discussing it with a lot of people. >> in particular, mozart shakespeare, and keats are used as examples, and they have negative capability, so whether than having a strong capability themselves, they can pick up the personalities of individuals around them. >> these children have to learn english. how will they learn english? let's teach them shakespeare. >> i am a huge shakespeare fan. i can quote from shakespeare.
>> shakespeare was right about the words. >> i am a new african who dreams of the language of shakespeare and toni morrison. >> the best works are jesus, shakespeare, and napoleon. director witmore: what an incredible series of quotations. hearing them, professor cornell west talking about his position as an african-american and an intellectual and the fact that when he dreams, he dreams in the language of shakespeare, is amazing. i think he captures that sense that you and i may not quote shakespeare day and night and we may know it more or less, but the way that shakespeare wrote was so powerful and so suggestive that it is more like he lived in our dreams. it is when you shut your eyes and your brain is trying to figure out what this world is and put people into the right stories, the words that tell those stories were put there by great writers, and shakespeare is one of them.
brian lamb: do you have a family? director witmore: i do. brian lamb: kids? director witmore: i have an 11-year-old son. brian lamb: is he at all interested in shakespeare? director witmore: he can quote some lines from "king lear." he wrote in a form that is almost natural for kids to take up. kids are theatrical, they want to move around, they are great mimics, and they are not as self-conscious as adults. when we teach shakespeare at the folger, and we have been doing it for 30 years, it is performance-based teaching, we say, you may not understand all of these words.
start speaking, and you will begin to find your way into the language. what we find is that if you have had a positive experience, reading shakespeare, or more accurately, performing shakespeare or seeing a play the odds of your being connected to this writer go way up. brian lamb: let's go back to the way that we began with robert byrd, deceased senator from west virginia on the floor of the senate. [video clip] senator byrd: valentine, speaking to proteus. this is from the two gentlemen of verona. speaking of his beloved sylvia when he said, i come as rich as having such a jewel as 20 seas.
if all the sand were pearl, the water, nectar, and the rocks pure gold. valentine could just has well been speaking of a good solid, well-rounded education. aye, as rich as having such a jewel as 20 seas. if all the sand were pearl, the watered neck to her and the rocks pure gold. brian lamb: how does someone do that? director witmore: well, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon him. i think that he was a natural.
i think that he probably had a great memory for shakespeare but what he does there, he doesn't just quote shakespeare he performs it. and then he says why it matters. he says -- well, it is kind of a puffball of a play -- many people have seen it, but he has read it, and he does not want to talk about the situations in the play, he wants to talk about a great education. magnificent. brian lamb: how many people work at the folger shakespeare library? director witmore: about 30 people on staff and about 40-50 on contracts as actors. brian lamb: i know you have to -- two buildings? director witmore: are first building is a full city block in length and it takes up half of a city block in the capital grid. brian lamb: i want to show you this picture, the senators and the congressmen often walk over to the library and use the reading room, or instance. -- for instance. director witmore: senator simpson is a good example, we have senators coming day and
night, they came for the gala, they raise money for the education. brian lamb: from the supreme court? director witmore: i am told that the justices were debating amongst themselves whether the man was from -- whether shaker was the man from stratford or from oxford, and they said they wanted debate that, and within 10 minutes, they walked across the street. brian lamb: how much did it cost in 1932 to build this building? director witmore: you know, i do not know the answer to that question. it is interesting, when it opened in 1932, it was in the middle of the depression, and it was probably one of the most luxurious buildings to be opened in washington for a decade. brian lamb: can the average citizen belong? director witmore: absolutely the folger shakespeare library is there for the entire country. you can become a member and receive our magazine where we
[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> q and a programs are also available as is then guess -- eastbound podcast. if you enjoyed this interview with michael whitmore, here are some other programs you might like. mark pachter former head of the national portrait gallery. edmund morris, and jenetta:.